Friendship is a two-way street, and when you and your pal are strolling side by side, going the same way watching the traffic go by, it is a marvellous sunny path. However, there are going to be times when you are going in opposite directions, with barely enough time to smile at your friend. Worst of all, there will be days when it seems the sun is shining only on one side of that street; the other side is in a permanently gloomy shade.
Do you bask in the sun and offer your friend a wave? Or do you cross over and remind her that there is a sunnier side ahead?
It is probable that your friend (let’s call her Joan) has decided that she is ready to let some sunlight back into her life and that’s why she has elected to go away. It is possible that Joan realizes she has allowed her very understandable grief to monopolize your time together and hopes to atone for it.
Alternatively, she could be gearing up for the world’s longest monologue of distress and wants your undivided attention for hours of scenic, windswept whining. For some, mourning is the only identity left, and rebuilding their personality after a series of traumatic losses is hard work. Joan may not be ready for the “new normal.”
Vacations are meant to be enjoyed by all the participants: you are entitled to a good time on this one, too. After all, you will give up both time and money to spend your holiday together. It is only fair that you are certain of her intentions. That means you have to be frank with Joan in advance of booking this trip.
It is time to confess that her conversation has become one-sided and that, while you are enormously supportive, you must be sure she is ready to leave mourning over her losses at home.
At this point, you must be equally prepared to plan a trip together or mop up your own emotional mess at the (temporary) loss of a friend. This can be a difficult moment in any relationship. Try to be understanding either way: this too shall pass.
“Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” As a friend, Christian and pastor, I feel called to do what I can for others, to go the extra mile.
But I do think there ought to be some self-care involved in a relationship, some boundaries that friends can expect from one another.
Our call to love our neighbour, to find God in that experience of reaching beyond ourselves, should only be tempered with the need to care for our own being, to be safe.
I think drawing that distinction between “not going the extra mile” and legitimate self-care is difficult. We all carry baggage and wounds that are reopened and infected by certain kinds of dysfunctional behaviours. So my failure to respond to a friend because I am tired or irritated likely doesn’t cut it. But if the dysfunctional behaviour cuts us deeply and undermines our sense of self and well-being, then we may have to say no.
My friend who has been through a messy divorce, loss of employment and a mother’s death is consumed by her own “issues.” Who wouldn’t be? I have only once been that low and certainly learned who my friends were by their response. I would hope to be a compassionate, understanding and clear-eyed friend to anyone facing these challenges.
But if my friend were to use me as a stand-in for all of those people and circumstances that have brought her to this place, then I would have to either make it clear that this is unacceptable or terminate the relationship.
I know I am the kind of friend who will do anything for anyone. I constantly keep those who are hurting in my thoughts and enjoy sharing the unexpected gesture. But I will not tolerate abuse from anyone.
So for me the vacation option is not about the anticipated fun and mutuality, or the trying of patience, but rather the level of respect and understanding between friends.
True friendship is about loving our neighbours — as well as ourselves.
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